The trailer for Arrival – a film not to be confused with the Charlie Sheen aliens-are-coming vehicle The Arrival (1996) – shows it to be suspenseful and action-packed. While it is the former, it is not the latter. It is something way more interesting than a generic alien invasion movie. Rather, it is a thought experiment with an unexpected detour into linguistics and philosophy. I felt a bit dazed just after watching it, my thought process tweaked by the perspective the movie threw my way.
It is hard to write a review for Arrival, because having too much knowledge about it beforehand would take away from the impact of it. The set-up is as follows. Giant spaceships that look like smoothed down pebbles arrive and hover just off the ground at apparently random locations across the globe. Their intent is unclear and a chat proves tricky because the new arrivals don’t communicate in any easily fathomable way. Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are tasked with getting a conversation going. Tensions mount as various governments come to the conclusion that an invasion is at hand. If Banks and Donnelly can’t figure out what is going on, war looms.
The movie is leisurely paced and it gives you time to be in awe of the aliens and their spaceships. Maybe it even overdoes that part a little. The acting is solid all around but especially Amy Adams knocks an emotionally complex role out of the park. The music and cinematography are all in sync, putting you into an otherworldly frame of mind. Admittedly, there are a few ‘wait, but why…?’ questions the movie leaves you with. Some seem puzzles the script intentionally left for you to solve, but one or two are more likely to be oversights. Still, the niggles are minor and should not deter you from seeing one of the best, most thoughtful scifi-movies in a long time. And there are cool aliens to boot.